A number of UN agencies and officials, government of developed nations, and NGOs falsely claim that “DE stigmatizing” high-risk behaviors decrease HIV/AIDS. They argue that if such behaviors are legalized, thereby reducing the stigma associated with them, then those who engage them will be much more likely to come forward and get help, which will prevent further spreading of HIV.
There is no evidence that this is true. Indeed, on the contrary, two-well known epidemiologists have noted that stigma can actually have a positive effect on a society’s health. It is observed that while the cost of stigma is always some individual suffering, the benefit can actually be saved lives. Consider the social stigmas associated with smoking, drinking and driving, or pedophilia. The results of these social stigmas, while at the cost of individual suffering, are ultimately a healthier society, the protection of our children, and lives saved.
While no one should be stigmatized on their status, certainly the behaviors that put people at the highest risk for contracting the deadly virus (prostitution, anal and oral sex, multiple concurrent partners, early sexual debut, IV drug use, etc.) should be stigmatized. Yet HIV/AIDS policies promoted by UN agencies increasingly are calling for the DE stigmatization of the very same behaviors that research shows are driving the AIDS pandemic.
Sexual right activists have hijacked the political discourse on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in order the advance a liberal sexual rights agenda. They do this at the expense of promoting the truly life saving prevention policies that could and should discourage the highest risk sexual behaviors for contracting HIV. Negotiators must be aware that those seeking to prioritize HIV funding for such high-risk groups over other groups often are really seeking to use such funding to advance special LGTB rights instead of using it for effective HIV prevention.
One of the deceptive strategies used to advance the LGTB agenda is to propose the elimination not of HIV stigma but of “HIV-related stigma” or discrimination. Broadening this concept is intended to not just prevent stigma because a person is affected with HIV, but also to prevent stigma against the behavior of the groups that research shows are engaging in the highest risk behaviors for contracting HIV, such as prostitutes and the LGTB community.
It is only common sense but justified based on well-documented research that instead of stigmatizing and celebrating dangerous behaviors, governments should be conducting public safety campaigns that identify specific behaviors that carry high risks for acquiring HIV infection and discourage them. At a minimum, policies should be adopted that impose legal consequences upon individuals who knowingly infect others with HIV or who fail to warn their sexual partners that they are HIV positive.
Edward Green, former Director of the Harvard Research Project on HIV/AIDS Prevention, stated that, “stigma can be a potent ally in fighting HIV. Although the price would be hurt feelings to the promiscuous, the gain would be countless lives saved.” Green points out the dangerous irony in wrongheaded prevention approaches: “So in AIDS world, we have stigmatized those who recommended sexual caution and the price has always been countless preventable deaths.
Whenever DE stigmatization of high-risk sexual behaviors and other similar approaches are advocated, it should be challenged and those promoting it must respond to the contrary findings of these and other researchers.